Slovenia’s lesser-known wine country

Just before the Prus winery. The church in the distance is probably in Croatia.

Ever since a Venetian restaurateur had told us about Slovenian “orange wine,” David and I had been dying to try it. To our frustration, few people seemed to know what we were talking about and the ones who did had none on offer. We decided to venture into Slovenian wine country to find this elusive wine.

Slovenia has 3 wine districts. The most prestigious–and by all accounts very beautiful–is on the Italian border. Another lies to the north with the city of Maribor at its heart. Finally, there is the eastern wine region, Posavje, that borders Croatia. It’s less well-known, but boasts the award-winning Prus winery (“Vinska Klet Prus”) near the village of Metlika. Not only has the proprietor be repeatedly named best overall winemaker in Croatia, but the winery has begun making an orange wine that has been named best in class. We were intrigued. I called ahead, and with some language difficulties, determined that an English-speaking tasting would be available.


Google maps said the vineyard was only about an hour and half away, nestled right up against the Croatian border. The drive through mostly small towns and countryside was pleasant and uneventful and till we we reached a police roadblock just beyond the small town of Donja Teska Voda, about 2/3 of the way into our trip. Along with all motorists heading our way, we were directed into the parking lot of some sort of water park. Puzzled and afraid our wine outing was being thwarted, we were relieved to find a policewoman who spoke English and who explained that the road closure was due to a bike race and would only last 30 minutes or so.

We were getting hungry anyway, so we turned around and drove a few miles back to a roadside pizza restaurant with a nice hillside deck where we could watch the expected bike race. The restaurant owner spoke no English, but we managed, the weather was perfect, the pizza delicious, and the race fun and soon over as promised. In no time, we were back on our way.

View of the bike race from the pizzeria deck

As we neared the Prus winery and the Croatian border, we saw many small vineyards interspersed among homes.


The area is rural, not a chateau or Tuscan-style villa in sight. In a small village, we stopped at a building with a Prus sign out front, but were told in very basic English that the tasting area was further down the road and someone who spoke good English would be there. Sure enough, we came to a large Prus bottle/sign [see photo at top of this post] pointing the way to a chalet-style wood and stone winery, very pretty and modern.

The tourist shot in front of the winery

The owner’s son welcomed us and he was enthusiastic and very knowledgeable about the family business. The winery is particularly known for its sweet white wines, which were very good, but we were most excited to try the “orange wine.” Orange wine derives its name from the color, not the flavor. It’s also know as “skin contact” or “contact” wine. The wine-making method is medieval in origin and is, basically, making white wine in the manner of red wine, leaving the skins of white grapes in contact with the wine for long periods of time. The result is a white wine that is high in tannins as well as orangish in color. Orange wines have become somewhat of a fad in the west in the last couple of years, getting write-ups in American newspapers and wine publications although not widely available in the U.S..

Prus orange wine
Glass-front barrel of orange wine shows the skins settled to the bottom.

April 3, 2016


Beer Post: Ljubljana

While we thoroughly enjoyed Slovenian wines, David is not going to let a new city pass without at least trying to find a good beer pub to sample the local beer. In Ljubljana, David’s research led us to try to local beer institutions: Sir William’s Pub on Tavčarjeva ulica 8a, and Patrick’s Irish Pub on Prečna ulica 6. Both obviously sporting non-Slovenian names, but both also carrying a good selection of local craft beers as well as foreign beers.

Of the two, Sir William’s has the more upscale ambiance with gleaming dark wood and comfortable banquettes. In good weather, seating is available outside on the sidewalk as well. The tap selection is modest, but there is a large variety of bottled beers. We ended up sampling foreign brews: a rich, boozy Schneider Aventinus Weizen-Eisbock from Germany (12.5% alcohol) and a Thornbridge Jaipur IPA from England (5.9% alcohol). Very different beers, but both delicious and with top scores from some of our favorite beer sites, BeerAdvocate and RateBeer.

Sir William’s Pub bar
Sir William’s Pub interior

Patrick’s Irish Pub is a more casual location, located below street level in several rooms of an old cellar. Unlike Sir William’s, Patrick’s offers hot food beyond just snacks. Although, we only split a large bowl of excellent french fries since we had dinner plans later. Once again, we found ourselves opting for English beers instead of local. But, the beers we chose had sky-high ratings and were hard to come by at home, so we had no complaints. David chose Fuller’s ESB bitters (“extra special/strong”; 5.9% ABV) and loved it. I went with Greene King’s Strong Suffolk Dark Ale (6% ABV) and enjoyed as well.

Afternoon beer snack at Patrick’s Irish Pub

Slovenia: Lake Bohinj and Lake Bled in a day

Lake Bled was on my absolute must-see list while in Slovenia. Photos showed something like a scene out of a fairy tale: a castle on a cliff overlooking a crystal clear lake in the middle of which sits a jewel of a little church on a tiny island accessible only by rowboats. But, as I did more research, nearby Lake Bohinj popped on my radar screen, begging to be visited as well.

Once again, we enjoyed the benefits of a small country: Google Maps said Lake Bohinj was only a little over an hour from our apartment in Ljubljana Old Town, and only 30 minutes past Lake Bled. Since the weather forecast called for more sun in the afternoon, we opted to drive through Bled to visit Lake Bohinj first, saving my top destination for last.

It was tantalizing to drive right past magnificent Bled with only a quick pause to admire the view of the island church and snap a pic or two. It turned out to be a good move, though; we stopped in parking spaces claimed by a major hotel. The man selling spots quoted us a price below what we’d seen in big parking lots much farther from the lake and we resolved to try to score one of these spots upon our return.

On the road between Bled and Lake Bohinj. We saw fly fishermen in the river, but no fish like this!

Lake Bohinj turned out to be pretty awesome for a second choice.  With water as clear as glass, it reflected the surrounding mountains like a mirror. The famous medieval church of St. John the Baptist dates back to the late-10th or early 11th century with frescoes dating back to 1300. On the opposite end of the lake, we hiked the equivalent of 65+ stories to reach the waterfall, Slap Savica. Crude stairs have been set in the mountain, but it’s a serious climb. There’s a gondola for those who’d rather skip the workout.

Lake Bohinj view of the church of St. John the Baptist
Fresco on St. John the Baptist church, Lake Bohinj
Mirror-like Lake Bohinj on the way to Slap Savica (“slap” means “waterfall.”)

Having driven a good 20 minutes beyond the church end of the lake, it took us closer to an hour to get back to Lake Bled. Still, we arrived with much of the day left ahead of us. Unfortunately, all the good parking spots were gone, so we parked in public parking near the Tourist Info where we were limited to 2 hours. Walking back by the good, lakeside hotel parking, we saw a space just opening up. I asked the man we’d spoken to earlier if he’d hold the spot long enough for us to go fetch the car and he agreed, putting a barrier up to prevent any interlopers. We quickly made the switch and were back on a leisurely schedule!

There are two traditional boats on Lake Bled providing access to the small island church: individual wooden rowboats (rented at several locations around the lake) and pletna boats, larger, flat-bottomed wooden boats operated by traditional pletna oarsmen. The charge for the pletna boats was a pretty ridiculous €14pp for about a 5 minute boat ride from the pletna boat dock. David and I had already decided we’d rather row ourselves anyway. That turned out to be a good thing because the day we were there the pletna oarsmen were on strike. (A real shame for those not up to rowing themselves!) On the other hand, that meant that all rowboats we asked after were already rented with a waiting list to boot. After a warm hike around much of the lake, we sucked it up and paid the premium asked by the spa near our parking spot. I think it was €15/hour instead of €10. A tiny drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of things, it just touched that I-hate-to-be gouged nerve of mine. 🙂 The other downside to renting at the spa was location. The spa is a lot farther away from the island church that the other rowboat rentals near the pletna boat dock. We had our work cut out for us.

In minutes, David was rowing away. Now, my husband is a pretty buff guy, but keeping that little boat on a straight line was giving him some trouble despite my awesome navigating. (The person rowing has to face backwards.) It turns out those boats are really susceptible to wind…as I discovered when I wanted to try the return row. My left arm was doing all the work trying to fight the wind and I was finally worn out. David and I eventually settled on a goofy-looking method whereby we faced each other, each of us using one oar while we tried to avoid banging the handles together with each stroke. Oh well, we made it back and the nice people at the spa spared us an overtime charge. All gouging forgiven!

There’s really not a lot to see once you’re on the island, but it’s fun to do. There’s a separate €6 charge to enter the little church where you can ring the “wishing bell.” There’s also a gift shop and an ice cream vendor with some pretty awesome gelato. 30-40 minutes max is plenty of time on the island.

Lake Bled
David, rowing our boat ashore
Almost there. Keep rowing, David!
Docked at Bled Island

We drove back to Ljubljana on the modern E61 and were easily home in time for dinner. What a great day!

April 2016

AirBnB: Ljubljana, Slovenia

Secured courtyard parking in old town Ljubljana was the perk that sealed this AirBnB apartment for me. But, even without the need to safely park the rent car, I would have been tempted by the rave reviews and lovely photos. From the time I booked, our host Aljosa (pronounced “ah lee OH sah”) was quick to respond to my emails in excellent English. On our arrival, he was waiting to let us into the apartment as promised.

The apartment–in an old building, as I usually prefer when in Europe, was spotlessly clean and stylishly renovated. We particularly admired the ceiling mural and one wall on which he had left the partially-exposed old wallpaper.

Living room/bedroom combo with painted ceiling
Feature wall with original wall covering partially exposed

The apartment was arranged with a large combination bedroom/living room and a separate kitchen. Large floor-to-high-ceiling windows on the wall opposite the bed let in lots of light. Ample wardrobe space, a big work desk, a L-shaped sectional sofa and a flat-screen tv with lots of channels (some in English), and good wi-fi made for a very comfortable stay. From the kitchen window, we could see our rent car parked in the electronically-gated courtyard; very nice for peace of mind. Ljubljana felt very safe and our concerns were more along the lines of dents and scratches that are always a risk of city parking. If we had any complaints at all it was that the sheer curtains did leave the apartment rather bright at night, which might be an issue for some. I mentioned it to Aljosa and he may have remedied that by now; it would be worth asking. In any event, at $411 for 5 nights, I was very happy with the value.



We loved the apartment’s location. There was a café just downstairs and another restaurant at the intersection in the other direction, on our way to the river and the heart of old town. Lots to do, but quiet at night; the perfect combination, IMHO. It was an easy walk to the myriad little riverside cafés and shops, the market and the funicular to the castle.

Aljosa helpfully offered suggestions for local restaurants and local foods to try. When I stupidly left a pair of glasses and a few small items on the bedside table, he mailed them ahead to our Zagreb AirBnB apartment and refused to let me pay. What an excellent host! You can check out the apartment at:

If you’re new to AirBnB and want to give it a try on this or any other apartment, you can use my referral link which should get both of us $30 in AirBnB travel credit: Let me know if you have any questions.

Visitor SIM: get connected in Slovenia [also Predjama Castle & Piran]

SIM cards are always on my list of things to look into when I’m going to spend any time in a country. Overpriced roaming charges on my American AT&T account are out-of-the-question except for the occasional first text to a landlord, etc. (I absolutely detest being gouged.) I try to keep a French and a Belgian SIM card active, but with no non-roaming EU-wide SIM (yet), I often need a new SIM card when I’m in Europe. Options vary widely from country to country, but Eastern Europe can offer some great deals. Unfortunately, those great deals are often hard to take advantage of if you don’t know the language.

Slovenia has solved that problem with Visitor SIM. For a price, sure, but it’s not an unreasonable price, IMHO, given the convenience. There are 3 options, and we chose the €20 for 15 days, 10GB data+ €5 of voice. You can use the data to make VoIP calls, Skype, etc., but we wanted a little easy talk time for local calls and it came in handy when we needed to rendezvous with our AirBnB landlord. The Visitor SIM cannot be mailed outside of Slovenia, so you need an address with someone present to receive the package. We weren’t sure we’d have that option with our AirBnB digs, so I opted for to have the card sent to the Ljubljana airport. I was told the card was would be waiting for us at Café Avioncek in the Arrivals area. While David checked out our Sixt rent car, I walked the 30 yards are so to the café, gave my name to someone behind the counter, and was back in no time with the SIM card. (You’re supposed  to provide ID, but no one asked.) The card installed, without problem, on my Android phone and we were up and running, Google Maps and all.

We spent the next days exploring Slovenia and found Internet coverage to be good in most places, if a little spotty in some very rural areas. I can’t say enough good things about Slovenia. I’d been wanting to visit for many years, and we found it to be beautiful, amazingly clean (Ljubljana has been named Green Capital of Europe for 2016), and very accessible. Lots of people spoke excellent English in Ljubljana and we found good English most places save for near the Eastern border with Croatia. I’d go back in a heartbeat!

Lovely Ljubljana
Riverside café in Ljubljana. Slovenians love their cured meats!

One of the great advantages of a small country. You can visit a castle built into a mountain in the morning and be eating super-fresh seafood on the coast by lunch:

Predjama Castle
Piran, on Slovenia’s small coastline on the Gulf of Trieste
Piran bounty

On the drive back from Piran to Ljubljana, we made a quick detour out to see the salt-pans at Sečovlje Salina Nature Park. It’s only a short drive out of town and worth a look even if, like us, you don’t have the time or inclination to take a tour or visit the Lepa Vida thalasso spa located in the park. Salt has been harvested from here since at least the Middle Ages.

Sečovlje salt-pans beyond the canal

March 30- April 1, 2016

Venice to Ljubljana, Slovenia: GoOpti van was the way to go

Our 3-week Caribbean and trans-Atlantic cruise on the Costa “Deliziosa” dropped us off in Venice, Italy, on Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016. It was my 4th time in Venice and David’s 2nd, but our first time together in that magical city and we were excited. It was my first time to arrive by ship and I was surprised to find that our large ship was allowed to dock just beyond the main train station. Undoubtedly convenient, given the 2-minute ride to the train station on the super-cheap “People Mover” to which we walked from the ship, it’s still disturbing to think of allowing these sea-going behemoths so close to the fragile old city. We heard later that there are plans to ban such ships from docking so close and I can’t help but think it’s wise. If you’re going to Venice by ship, I’d keep tabs on that potential dock change.

Despite the Easter crowds, we had a fabulous time in Venice. Our AirBnB apartment was one of the best we’ve had: beautiful and well-equipped, a short distance from the Gritti Palace vaporetto stop, a few blocks from San Marco square, a charming building on a picturesque courtyard, on the gondola path, with one of my favorite mobile amenities, a mobile hotspot so David and I had wi-fi throughout the city and nearby islands, and great hosts (one of whom, Francesca, spent over an hour getting us acquainted with the neighborhood and pointing out her favorite restaurants and those to avoid). One night, we celebrated David’s birthday at Michelin-starred Il Ridotto. We enjoyed their creative holiday prix fixe meal, but after 4+ hours we were ready to surrender!

Because it seems a crime to gloss over Venice entirely, below are a few photos.

Gondola jam beneath our bedroom window
Buildings lit up in the colors of the Belgian flag to show solidarity after the Brussels bombings
Easter menu at Il Ridotto (minus a couple off-menu courses)
Roasted pilgrim scallops (“cappesante”):



After several days in Venice, it was time to begin our much-anticipated Balkan adventure. Research yielded the surprising news that no trains run between Venice and nearby Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. The trip can be made, but you have to train to the border, taxi across and then catch a Slovenian train. More hassle than we wanted. We also didn’t want to drive given Venice traffic restrictions and the cost of taking a rent car across a border, even within the EU. After weighing options, we decided to book with GoOpti, a van service that offers a sliding price scale depending on when you book and whether you are willing to share a ride. I booked almost 3 months in advance and it was far cheaper than flying and without the attendant expense, hassle, and time always required for flying. (Our total cost for GoOpti was €48; €24pp–a great deal.) Even on budget airlines and traveling light to avoid luggage surcharges, you’ve got to factor in transportation to airports which are nearly always a distance from town as well as ever-increasing security delays. For short flights, it’s often quicker to travel by land.

For GoOpti, you choose from offered departure points and departure time windows (of 1-3 hours depending on the time of day) with a maximum arrive-by time at your destination given for each departure time window. GoOpti says they will text and email you the day before departure with a precise time, so wi-fi or phone service is necessary. As promised, GoOpti emailed us the day before saying pick-up would be at 2pm, but emailed again shortly afterward to say 1:30pm. The van arrived promptly. We chose Piazzale Roma (the plaza just across the canal from the main Venice train station, by the big pedestrian bridge) for our departure point. My only uneasiness about the arrangement was the failure of GoOpti to provide any details as to where in the big, busy piazza we were to meet our van. This meant we arrived extra early to allow time to find the van and David waited with our luggage on one side of the plaza while I made a circuit, asking random strangers and vendors about GoOpti to no avail. We finally decided to postition ourselves near the only traffic entrance to the plaza. Eventually, I spotted a GoOpti van stuck in traffic and was able to get him to roll down the window. While he wasn’t our driver, he pointed us in the right direction. So, here’s the scoop: If you arrive by vaporetto, motoscafi, etc., just walk away from the canal, past all the large buses and you’ll find a few benches built into a long planter where you can sit, facing away from the canal and buses, to wait for the GoOpti van. Just walk over to the van and identify yourself when it arrives. The GoOpti vans will simply park, head-on into one of the regular parking spaces. Walk up to the driver and identify yourself. They’ll have your name and reservation or direct you to the driver who does.

GoOpti van picking up customers
GoOpti van parking with bench/planter seating to the right of the man in blue. The People Mover station where you arrive from the cruise port is behind him.

Although we booked a shared ride, there was only us in the 9-person van. (This was a Wednesday.) The van was immaculate; our Slovenian driver, Petra, very friendly and English-speaking. We had control of our own air conditioning in the back. She stopped for a little snack and bathroom break when asked about 1.5 hours into the trip, but would have stopped, she said, whenever we asked. You can buy sandwiches and drinks (coffee, soft drinks, water, beer, etc.) at the convenience store/filling station where she stops. There’s also free wi-fi and clean toilets. The drive from Venice to the Ljubljana Airport took 3 hours. Highways and roads are excellent; the drive smooth and uneventful.

GoOpti provides transfers to many locations in northern Italy, as well as quite a few in Slovenia and Croatia. It also has connections as far as Munich, Vienna and Budapest.

Although we planned to spend some time in Ljubljana, we chose to be dropped off at the airport so we could pick up a rent car as well as the Slovenian Visitor SIM card I’d pre-ordered and had delivered to an airport café. A terrific convenience! More about that in the next post.

March 30, 2016